This section of the ParaPro Assessment is designed to determine if you have the knowledge and skills necessary to help students with reading tasks in the classroom. Not only will you need to know the concepts involved in successful reading, but you will also be required to apply them to help students.
We have divided this study guide into two parts: a review of reading skills and techniques to use when helping students. After studying these concepts, use our practice questions and flashcards to test your knowledge of reading assistance.
Being a good reader involves the ability to interact with all sorts of texts and graphic representations, such as charts, graphs, and tables. The reading material comes from a vast array of content areas and real-life situations. Here are the types of things questions on the ParaPro Assessment will likely concern.
Most texts that students are assigned to read and should understand and access have multiple components to them. Some components require careful reading to identify, but others are generally easier to recognize. By studying a passage or other reading selection, you can derive basic things about it. Some components require careful reading to identify, but others can be gleaned by a quick read through. Here are some of the most common components of a text.
The topic of a text is the subject that an author writes about. Topics can be very broad (science) or very specific (the use of gene therapy to restore eyesight in patients with congenital eye disease). As the subject of a text, the topic is usually brief (from one word to a short sentence). Think of the topic as the “umbrella” of a text; everything else in the text should relate back to and fit under the umbrella of the identified topic.
The main idea of a text is the author’s position with regard to the topic. If you think of the topic as the umbrella, the main idea is like the handle that holds the umbrella open. It must be there to give the reader something to hold on to. The main idea is what the author has to say about the topic. Depending on the length of the text, there may be an overall main idea and also main ideas presented in each body paragraph. Determining the main ideas is important because these ideas help the reader identify important information.
If we go back to our umbrella metaphor, supporting details are the spokes of the umbrella that help to give it shape and enable the writing do its job. Supporting ideas (sometimes called supporting details) are pieces of information that clarify, describe, explain, expand, or provide more information about the main idea of the paragraph and the overall topic of the text. Supporting ideas are important because, without them, the reader may not draw the same conclusions or have the same understanding as the author. Supporting details act as evidence to support an argument; they act as description to provide imagery and feelings or as facts to enlighten an audience.
Primary or Author’s Purpose
Identifying the author’s purpose (sometimes called the primary purpose) is important for readers to do. Understanding why an author chooses to focus on a particular topic or why the author presents the supporting details he or she does affects how a reader engages with the text. If you can’t identify or don’t understand the author’s purpose, you may not fully understand or appreciate the text.
The term theme is similar to main idea, but is more often used in reference to fictional writing. The theme of a text is its underlying meaning. This meaning may be presented to the reader directly or indirectly. In non-fiction texts, the themes tend to be stated directly, often in a thesis statement in the introduction paragraph. Fictional texts tend to bury the theme and present it to the reader indirectly and/or gradually, so that the reader must look for clues to piece together to determine the message. A text may have multiple themes and they are often repeated throughout the story so that the reader can identify and understand them.
Author’s Point of View
The author’s point of view means the voice an author uses to present his or her text. An author may choose to use a first-person point of view where the author uses first-person pronouns I, me, or we, either directly engaging with an audience or through the creation of a narrator in the case of a fictional text. An author may also choose to use a second-person point of view (you), or a variation of third-person point of view (limited or omniscient, in the case of fictional texts). Third-person point of view utilizes third-person pronouns such as he, she, it, they, them, etc.
Authors may choose to organize their writing in a variety of ways. Text organization, sometimes referred to as text structure, may take several different forms depending on the author’s purpose and his or her intended audience. Here are the five most-used structures of text.
One way an author might choose to organize his or her information is by sequence. In this form, information is presented in “steps” that relate a process to the reader. Each section or paragraph of text represents a step in the overall process. This style of organization is appropriate when the author’s purpose is to explain or describe a process to the reader. For example, “How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” would best be organized in a sequential pattern as the author could outline each step in the process to take the reader from the list of ingredients to the finished product.
The problem-solution organizational structure is used by authors not only to present a problem or dilemma he or she feels needs to be addressed, but also to suggest possible solutions for the issue. A problem-solution structure includes two main sections in the text: one that presents the issue and explains why it is a problem and why it needs to be addressed and one that describes possible solutions to help put an end to the issue. Problem-solution essay organization generally ends with a challenge to the reader to take action, change his or her behavior or opinion on a subject, and work to help put the solution into place. This organizational structure is especially effective in persuasive writing where the author wants the reader to take action regarding an issue.
Authors use comparison-contrast organization to identify and explain the differences and/or similarities between two or more subjects. In this organizational pattern, the author arranges information based on the similarities or differences between subjects in an effort to draw connections for the reader. Comparison-contrast essays might flip flop back and forth in an alternating pattern of paragraphs between similarities and differences, or it may cover all of the similarities or differences first in a number of paragraphs and then present the other side. Comparison-contrast formatting is often used by authors who are looking to enlighten their readers with insight about the similarities or differences between subjects that the reader may not have considered previously. Comparison-contrast also allows the author to explain unknown or less familiar concepts to the reader by making connections to something with which the reader is familiar or knowledgeable.
The term descriptive organization usually includes spatial and chronological organization. Authors describe a series of events based on time (chronological) or their location or proximity to one another (spatial). For example, an author might use descriptive writing to describe the layout of a town, explaining where the park is located in relationship to the library in relationship to city hall, etc. Or the author may describe the events that led up to the Battle of the Bulge in chronological order to show the build-up. Descriptive writing describes a scene in detail, one topic at a time, or in a progression of time (either forward or backward) so the reader can “see” the big picture.
Cause and Effect
In the cause and effect format of writing, the author introduces an event (the cause) and then explains the resulting consequence(s) (the effects). Cause and effect is similar to problem-solution organization in that both present issues the author perceives to be problematic in nature. However, the cause and effect pattern requires no offer of a solution to the problem, only an explanation of the possible outcomes and effects of the problem. Cause and effect organization is good to use in persuasive writing when the author wants the reader to take a particular action as a result of the problem the author has identified. Although the author may not suggest a solution, the reader feels the need to do something based on the strength of the author’s suggestion that negative effects may follow as a result of the identified cause.
Rhetorical devices refer to the use of words in a way that persuades the audience to do or believe something they may not have considered otherwise. Rhetorical devices are around us in our daily lives and we use them on a regular basis, whether consciously or not. Although there are hundreds of rhetorical devices, here are some of the more commonly used ones.
An allusion is a reference to someone or something well-known or famous, used by an author to help make a connection for the reader. For example, if an author describes the setting of a story as being a Garden of Eden, the reader makes the connection to his or her understanding of the biblical Garden of Eden, a perfectly beautiful place. If an author cautions against giving in to the lure of modern-day sirens, he or she is alluding to the Sirens of Greek mythology and those found in Homer’s Odyssey, where half-bird, half-woman creatures lured sailors to their deaths by singing beautifully.
The term anaphora refers to a repeated word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. Used most commonly in speeches, anaphora gives emphasis or creates unity between the ideas presented. One of the most famous American examples of anaphora may be Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech where he repeats the phrase “I have a dream” as he presents his desire for equal rights for all people. Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities begins with anaphora as “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”. The repetition of the phrase tends to make a strong impact on the reader or audience.
If hyperbole is extreme exaggeration, understatement might be considered its opposite. Understatement means suggesting something is less than what it is so that the issue seems less important. Understatement might be used by an author to create humor, suggest modesty, or as a way to remain polite. For example, you might get an amazing annual review and earn a big bonus. But when someone asks about it, you downplay it by saying it’s a “little extra” in your paycheck each month. Careful, critical readers recognize understatement and work to analyze its purpose in being used: why does the author wish to minimize this idea? And, in minimizing it, does it actually draw attention to the issue?
Authors use parallelism to help add a sense of balance and rhythm to their sentences. Parallelism means that sentences are structured in the same was so that they have balance and are similar in their sound or meter. Parallelism may increase the sense of repetition in a sentence and therefore the impact of a particular idea. Short examples of parallelism include: “like father, like son,” “easy come, easy go,” or “Her favorite activities are knitting, cooking, and playing softball.”
Authors use rhetorical questions not in an attempt to elicit an actual answer, but to get the audience to think about or consider an idea or topic. Rhetorical questions are posed as questions to the reader or audience, but the author does not intend them to actually be answered. Indeed, sometimes there is no quick or clear answer to the question posed. Rhetorical questions are used by authors to subtly influence the reader or to add emphasis to particular idea.
Rhetorical appeals are the elements used by authors to persuade their audiences. There are three main types of rhetorical appeal and they are most effective when used together.
Ethos— Ethos is an ethical appeal, which means it tries to persuade the reader to trust the author as a credible or reliable source on the subject. You should believe what the author tells you because he or she has done the research or studied the subject. Ethos can also be created through an author’s tone. If he or she is polite and respectful of the reader and the subject, the audience is more likely to believe him or her than an author who is judgmental or antagonistic toward the reader or the subject. Creating a common ground and sense of trust builds ethos.
Pathos— Pathos refers to emotional appeals made by an author to move an audience in an emotional way. Hitting the reader’s heart or gut, evoking strong feelings, whether positive or negative, is pathos. People are moved by guilt, fear, a sense of commonality or connection—and all of these are feelings that pathos may work to evoke and which an author may use to persuade his or her audience. Although logical appeals (logos) are generally considered the strongest “argument”, there is a place for emotional appeals as well and the most effective persuasive pieces balance pathos and logos while establishing author credibility (ethos).
Logos— Logos is a logical appeal or an argument that makes sense to our logical, rational, thinking sides. Not everyone is ruled by their emotion and some people are better persuaded by facts and statistics. When it makes logical sense, then logos is at work. However, even the most logical people have some depth of emotion, so effective writers understand their target audience and balance their use of logos and pathos.